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Products of the IMG football factory

MONICA HERNDON   |   Times Miami Hurricanes offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis (78) celebrates with a teammate after winning the Florida State Seminoles game against the Miami Hurricanes on October 7, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. Final score Miami Hurricanes 24, Florida State Seminoles 20.
MONICA HERNDON | Times Miami Hurricanes offensive lineman Tyree St. Louis (78) celebrates with a teammate after winning the Florida State Seminoles game against the Miami Hurricanes on October 7, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla. Final score Miami Hurricanes 24, Florida State Seminoles 20.
Published Nov. 30, 2017

Tyree St. Louis doesn't have time to reflect on how quickly his career has taken off.

Six years ago, he was playing his first snaps of organized football at Tampa Bay Tech. Now, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound junior has started 19 consecutive games at right tackle for a No. 7 Miami team with legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations.

One of the biggest reasons the Tampa native cites for his transformation: His decision to transfer from Tech to Bradenton's IMG Academy, a program that quickly has exploded from startup to football factory.

"Those 2½ years there definitely put me ahead a lot," St. Louis said.

How much it put him ahead depends on whom you ask. But there's no question IMG has started to influence the sport.

The school began fielding a team in 2013 and immediately began receiving criticism from high school coaches, including some in the bay area who argued it was poaching top players. Baylor coach Matt Rhule won't recruit there because Texas high school coaches have complained that it drains the state's talent.

Plenty of other colleges don't see the problem. IMG touts 65 players on major college rosters, including 51 on Power Five teams.

True freshman Kellen Mond quarterbacked Texas A&M to a last-second win at Florida last month. Running back Bo Scarbrough has rushed for 549 yards and eight touchdowns at Alabama this season. Mississippi's Shea Patterson was one of the SEC's most promising quarterbacks before injuring his knee last month.

Other IMG alumni will be on full display this weekend.

St. Louis is among five 'Canes who went to IMG. Teammate and fellow native Scott Patchan is in line for more playing time at tight end thanks to Chris Herndon's season-ending knee injury.

One of the players St. Louis might have to block in Saturday's ACC title game is Clemson reserve linebacker Shaq Smith, who played at IMG in 2015. Ohio State safety Isaiah Pryor will be one of four IMG alumni in the Big Ten title game with Wisconsin. Florida State freshman defensive end Josh Kaindoh could light up Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday and help the Seminoles become bowl-eligible; he has five tackles for a loss over his past two games.

"He's really becoming a complete player," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Great future in front of him."

For some IMG alumni, the bright future was obvious long before arriving in Bradenton.

Alabama true freshman Dylan Moses began attracting college recruiters in middle school. In his Crimson Tide debut, he forced and recovered a fumble in the season-opening win over FSU. He eventually grew into the starting middle linebacker role.

So was that early success because of his time at IMG or because of his five-star talent?

"I think they have good coaches, and they do a really good job developing guys," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of IMG. "I really do think it's all about the psychological disposition and maturity of each player as to how well they develop when they get to college and how quickly they develop."

FSU has four IMG alumni thanks to a pipeline that former coach Chris Weinke, the 2000 Heisman-winning quarterback at FSU, helped build. Fisher appreciates the program, but he didn't want to generalize about how much better prepared its players are compared to other recruits.

"What they do understand, though, being in that environment, away from home — it's more like a college atmosphere," Fisher said.

Miami coach Mark Richt agreed. He said some of IMG's biggest perks aren't the coaching or facilities but everything else.

"They start competing with guys that are just closer to them in skill-set, and that's a big thing," Richt said. "And then being away from home is a big thing."

St. Louis wasn't that far from home, but he credits IMG for helping turn him from a raw talent into a more polished blue-chip recruit. The competition he faced in practice was tougher than most games.

"Everything there is so advanced," he said. "I had to learn how to move faster and keep up, or I'd get pushed behind."

St. Louis learned to keep up. And what he learned there is helping him push the Hurricanes toward the playoff.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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